Lessons from the cold – Day 27: Curiosity never killed the cat

Lessons from the cold - Day 27: Curiosity never killed the cat

How can you use your curiosity to discover your passion and purpose?

By Tom Lancaster

One of the reasons I embarked on this challenge to get into the ocean every day in January was simply curiosity. I wonder what happens if…

It was a step into the unknown, with unknown benefits and unknown perils. What has come out of it so far is a TV interview, with another scheduled. At least 5 new friends, and a deeper connection with several others, through going for the dips together. A much clearer and deeper understanding of resistance, fear, commitment, discipline, and simply what I am capable of. I’m told I look better, that my skin is more radiant. A seed has been planted to run a marathon…which I was TOTALLY not expecting.

Curiosity is a key part of adventure, a key part of success, and a key part of personal transformation. It is a key part of discovering your passion, and just as importantly, motivation to pursue your passion.

Without curiosity, there can be no expansion.

Passion is a profound focussing mechanism. We pay more attention to things we believe in. But focussed attention is the ultimate gateway drug. 

It drives performance, it increases productivity, and it triggers flow (which, in turn, further increases performance and productivity).

Steven Kotler, Flow Research Collective

In 1921, when asked why he risked his life in the pursuit of climbing mountains, George Mallory replied “Because it’s there.” For me, one of the things I love most about exploring is building up a mental map of my surroundings.

I’m just speculating here, but my guess is that there is a safety element to curiosity. If we go back to our cave dwelling days, it makes sense that if we are not curious about exploring our environment, then we cannot know what dangers lie in wait for us, or what resources are available to us.

So as I explore a new city, or landscape, I build up a mental picture or my environment, and this brings me a feeling of comfort.

Just outside Squamish, roughly half way between Vancouver and Whistler, and rising straight up from the side of the highway lies the Stawamus Chief. A huge, vertical rockface 700m high. Last summer I climbed it three times, and aside from the memories of those days, now every time I drive past it I can look up and read the rock, I can see the routes I went up. I feel like I’m getting to know the Chief.

Photo courtesy of Israel Cruces - facebook.com/Israelcrucesphotography

Climbing and adventure has been a lifelong passion for me. A lifetime of curiosity.

Passion is such a key factor in success – if we are not passionate about something, how can we be expected to pursue it to the extent we become successful at it?

Steven Kotler, founder of the Flow Research Institute, describes passion as “a profound focussing mechanism. We pay more attention to things we believe in. But focussed attention is the ultimate gateway drug. It drives performance, it increases productivity, and it triggers flow (which, in turn, further increases performance and productivity).”

If you know what you are passionate about, then you’re off to a great start. But what do you do if you don’t know what you are passionate about?

How do we discover a passion, amp up focus, get into flow and see intrinsic motivation spike?


The Curiosity Game

I learned this from Steven Kotler, and it is brilliant.

Step 1: Make a list

Write down 25 things you are curious about. Do this with a pen and paper, not a keyboard – you’ll be more creative and remember more!

By curious, I mean, you’d be interested to read a book about it if you had some spare time, or talk to someone who is an expert on the subject.

Be specific. ‘Skiing’ or ‘dance’ are too vague. 

Instead be curious about “how the turning radius of a ski impacts backcountry performance” or How dancing salsa “on 2” is different to dancing “on 1”

Step 2: Hunt for intersections

Where do the items on your list overlap? If you had skiing and dance on your list, you’re probably into sports and fitness on some level. 

Could dancing strengthen your knees and reduce injury while skiing, for example?

The reason for this is that curiosity on its own will not drive passion.

But if you can find 3 or places where three or four items on your list overlap, suddenly there is energy there. Humans love pattern recognition, and seeing these intersections begins to create a pattern, and noticing these patterns causes dopamine release in the brain. It feels good!

Dopamine is one of the brain’s principal reward chemicals and is extremely addictive. 

This addiction is key to passion. 

The more dopamine you get, the more addictive the experience, the more addictive the experience, the more you can’t wait to do it again.

Step 3: Play

Now that you’ve found your intersections, play there for a while. Watch TED talks, read books, speak to experts. 

Feed the curiosity, just a little, each day. The more you learn, the more you feed the pattern recognition software in your brain.

You’ll automatically start to notice more patterns, which means more dopamine, which means more motivation, more expertise and more passion.

Step 4: Go public

We humans are social creatures, and to really seal the deal on your new passion, you need some public successes.

Join a meetup on the subject. Join an online community. Start a Facebook page. Talk to other folks. 

The expertise and knowledge you have cultivated in the play phase means you have something unique to say about the subject. And when you talk to others about it, two things happen:

1. People feed off your ideas and add to them
2. People validate your ideas and you get another squirt of dopamine

Of course you need to be in a room with people who share similar interests, but a few public successes will really add fuel to the fire!

Step 5: Turning passion into purpose

Now you have your passion, what do you do with it? Passion by definition is an all-consuming experience – it can be selfish…there’s not much room for other people.

Thus, it’s critical to turn passion into purpose—that’s both how your build businesses around your passion and how you guard against being swallowed whole by your new love.

Grab your pen and a new sheet of paper.

Write down a list of 15 global problems you would love to see solved. I’m talking massive problems that everyone has to deal with.

The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities.

Now look for places where your passion intersects with this list. When you find it – that’s purpose.

Suddenly, you’re looking at both a golden business opportunity and a way to use your new found passion to do some real good in the world. 



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